Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not think I will need the full time because most of what I have to say has already been covered. I also compliment Senator Fitzpatrick who has taken her brief in the housing role to an extreme. Her work ethic and dedication to the cause has been second to nobody I have known in these Houses since my first election in 2016.She has a weekly sub-committee meeting for anyone in our parliamentary party who wishes to attend. I do not think that is happening under any other brief. I am not plámásing her or just clapping one of my own on the back for the sake of it when I have the opportunity. She thoroughly deserves our thanks and gratitude. I welcome her Private Members' motion and I am delighted to support it.

I see from where Senator Craughwell is coming. Everybody here will recognise and acknowledge the fact that we have a housing crisis at the moment and, irrespective of what rights are in the Constitution, there is a supply and demand issue. We do not have the required supply. Demand is outrunning supply. For that reason, a constitutional right cannot be met. However, I disagree with the Senator to the extent that the extraordinary advantage of having the basic human right of adequate and appropriate housing that is affordable to someone's circumstances within the Constitution is that it gives recognition to all others, fellow citizens and brethren within the community who are duty-bound by the same Constitution. A constitutional right would give those people recognition of another's right. It would then make it unconstitutional to object to houses being built and that could, and possibly would, meet that other's constitutional right, whether those houses are in Tallaght or Clondalkin, and whether the citizens who would object to planning permission are private citizens or public representatives. That would be the strength of a constitutional right to housing, to address Senator Craughwell's point. It would involve the recognition by everyone of one's right to housing and may make individuals less likely to object to that right.

We all acknowledge there is a shortage of housing and we do not have the houses. I am strongly and actively involved in the GAA and the situation is like the one around tickets for the All-Ireland final. Two tickets come to a local club every year and if somebody hears one has won the two All-Ireland tickets, they think one is heading off to Croke Park for free. In a ticket raffle, one wins the right to buy. I think this is a good comparison to a constitutional right to a house. Some people out there think that if we put this right into the Constitution, people will get houses for free and that if one has a constitutional right to a house, the Government will have to provide it. Like All-Ireland tickets, all one gets is a right to buy the house. It is a right to adequate and appropriate housing that is affordable to an individual's circumstances.

Sinn Féin's amendment demands a date for a referendum but we are a long way from that. I welcome Senator Fitzpatrick's motion and support it. It should go to the Commission on Housing, as Senator Cassells has mentioned, under the chairmanship of Mr. John O'Connor. We need to get this right. We need to get the wording right. Along with our Housing for All project, the Affordable Housing Bill, the Land Development Agency, we need to ensure that we can provide houses for people to whom we are suggesting giving this constitutional right.

There are many uncontrollable issues out there, including Covid-19 and the closing down of the construction industry. As a result of Covid and Brexit, an area with which I have some involvement, the price of building materials has skyrocketed. The goalposts keep moving and it is hard to get ahead of the curve. It is equally hard to stay ahead of the curve if we get ahead of it. This requires collective effort. It is not a political issue. There was a fiasco earlier on the Affordable Housing Bill. Votes were proposed and tellers were not appointed, all for the sake of allowing a party to say, if it is accused of supporting something, that it called a vote and then move on, even though it did not follow through on the vote. Playing politics with issues in that way is not on. That time has gone. We recognise we are in a crisis. We recognise the right and while it is not in the Bunreacht at the moment, we want to see it there. We must work collectively and playing political populism with issues of such importance is not on. It never was and it never should be.

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